A two-year effort to relocate the ships at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, in Erie Canal Harbor, is showing signs of major progress.
Divers have been working underwater to prepare the vessels for the 100-yard journey to their new moorings, and Friday they completed removing propellers from the USS The Sullivans. The destroyer's two 20-ton propellers were hoisted out of the water using cranes.
"This is another big step along the way," said Patrick J. Cunningham, executive director of the naval park. "It brings us closer to getting everything relocated."
Removal of the propellers reduces the amount of dredging necessary to accommodate the ship at its new location, just west of its current resting place.
The current timetable for overhaul of the waterfront attraction calls for the submarine USS Croaker, which was towed off site last year to make way for relocation in the Inner Harbor, to be brought to its new moorings in July. The USS Little Rock is also scheduled to be moved into place sometime this summer.
The ambitious and painstaking task of relocating the massive naval vessels began in January 2000, when divers from Buffalo Industrial Diving Co. worked to dig out about 11,000 cubic yards of sediment that built up beneath the Little Rock during its 20-year stint in the harbor.
Over the past few months, the diving crews have been working on underwater alterations on the Little Rock and the USS The Sullivans, including the removal of propellers and sonar domes, and ballasting. The work is part of a $3.1 million state contract, which also includes subsurface blasting and dredging, plus installation of cradles to hold the vessels at the new site.
As the relocation work continues, naval park officials announced the acquisition of significant pieces of the USS Boston, a decommissioned nuclear submarine. The sub's sail and rudder will arrive at the waterfront facility early this summer to become part of the permanent collection.
The submarine sail, the part of the submarine that rises above the water while the vessel is surfaced, will be the first sail of a Los Angeles-class attack sub to go on display. The nearly 50-ton sail stands 16 feet tall, 20 feet long and 5 feet wide.
In addition to being an attraction for naval history buffs, the USS Boston parts also have a local tie, Cunningham said.
"The Boston is identical to the USS Buffalo, which we'd love to get someday but is still in use," he said. "Even though these are parts, not an entire submarine, it's still a unique acquisition for us that will have a lot of appeal."
The USS Boston group has also scheduled its 2003 reunion in Buffalo to take advantage of the presence of the sub sections. It's estimated that 500 former crew members will come to town for that event.
The summer arrival of the Boston parts will have special significance for Bruce McCausland, a Buffalo resident who served on the fast attack sub from its initial manning stage in late 1979 through the end of its first deployment in 1983.
"The first time I saw her, she was still under construction in the shipyard in Groton, Conn.," McCausland said. "I was a newly reporting nuclear reactor operator. We were there to learn the system and work with the shipyard on the installation of the components."
McCausland, an electronics technician 2nd class, was on board when Adm. Hyman Rickover rode the USS Boston during its sea trials, the last that Rickover oversaw. McCausland then spent the next three years on the vessel during its around-the-world first mission.
"It offers me a sense of closure," said McCausland, an active member of the USS Boston alumni group. "I've never been able to show my family physical evidence of that experience. When it's on display, I'll be able to take them to the park and explain what it was like."
The naval park opens for its 2002 season April 1. It will be open for visitors every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.